Legislators Slash Spending for Essential Services

Posted by: Tim Mathis

On May 17, 2011, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a package of 312 amendments to House Bill 1, adding another $138.5 million in spending reductions for health care, education, and social services. Once again, Louisiana is failing its children, families, and 26 percent of the population living in poverty, by passing severe budget cuts.

The committee cut an additional $3.2 million from Behavioral Health Community, a program that provides services for nearly 30,000 people struggling with mental health issues and addictive disorders statewide. The state operates 45 Community Mental Health Centers, three state hospitals, and three psychiatric units, with over three-fourths of patients successfully completing treatment. Less funding means less capacity to treat drug users, pregnant women, or women with dependent children. The office prioritizes these individuals and provides inpatient care, detoxification services, counseling and treatment for drug addiction, and gambling treatment.

The committee recommended cutting LSU Health Care Services Division by $4.6 million, responsible for serving Louisiana’s uninsured population through charity hospitals and clinics across the state. These cuts come in addition to the $110 million proposed by the Governor and will likely result in even more layoffs in well-paying health care jobs.

Additional cuts will also slow down efforts to improve education for low-income students in Louisiana. A reduction of $3 million for the Truancy Assessment and Services Centers (TASC) may hurt our ability to reduce high school drop-outs. The TASC program is over a decade old and has served 80,000 Louisiana children in 454 public schools. Although the percent has declined over the past five years, Louisiana still ranks among the lowest states in terms of teens not in school.

The legislature cut nearly $2 million from the governor’s expansion of School and District Innovations, a program that develops and retains highly qualified teachers, essential to turning around our failing schools. In addition, funding for the Recovery School District was slashed by $36.8 million. This cuts scholarships for low-income students at failing schools in New Orleans to attend private schools or non-failing schools in other neighborhoods.

According to the Louisiana State Police, a reduction of more than $800,000 would force the office to lay off State Troopers for the first time in its history. The committee also cut $1.5 million from Avoyelles Correctional Center.

The Department of Children and Family Services will likely see further cuts to the recommendations in the Executive Budget. The committee reduced Prevention and Intervention services by $26.4 million in addition to the Governor’s cuts of $38.8 million. The program provides welfare services for abused or neglected children, intervenes to reduce domestic violence and homelessness, coordinates a system of care for low-income children to have safe and stable homes, and regulates child-care providers statewide. The additional cuts would amount to a 20 percent reduction from last year—meaning substantially less assistance for the one out of four children living in poverty in Louisiana. In addition, Community and Family Services faces an additional $9.3 million reduction to the $26 million already proposed by the Governor. The cuts would reduce funding for the division by 10 percent from the previous year. The program is responsible for directing assistance to disabled individuals, enrolling eligible families for food stamps and income assistance programs, and protecting children by finding absent parents and overseeing orderly child support payments.

In order to move Louisiana off the bottom of the charts in health care and education, legislators need to adopt a balanced approach that focuses on strengthening services to the most vulnerable members of our communities.

They include details about safety-net programs like Medicaid, tax credits for low-income workers and educational scholarships and help promote a better understanding of how safety-net programs affect different communities across our state.
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